With so much gloom and doom reported in December, here are notes of thanks to players who provided us some levity in 2009.
Dear Henrik Stenson:
In these hard times, it was encouraging that you could joke about losing your shirt in the Stanford Financial mess. It was, however, flat-out inspiring to see you laugh about losing everything but your boxers and your golf glove at the third hole at Doral. You did that in the first round of the CA Championship in March. Thanks for showing us that if you’re going to get caught with your pants down, it’s better to do it on the golf course, for all the world to see, than in a church parking lot, for a lone photographer to witness. It felt so much better knowing we were laughing with you when you disrobed to hit a shot from the water. There was no guilt or remorse in our laughter when late night comics had their way with you. We knew you were having more fun with it than we were.
Dear Denis Watson:
Though you’ve known a lot of pain in your career, from blown-out joints to heartache, thanks for the sense of humor you’ve offered along your journey, even in your failure this year. After starting the final round too far back to win at the Allianz Championship in your South Florida backyard in February, you shared how your wife, Susan, rooted you around while your five children decided they would stay at home.
“The Valentine’s card they got me said `Play better, Dad,’” you told us.
We knew you were joking, and we laughed with you.
Dear Lance Ten Broeck:
You made us think that that the PGA Tour’s old slogan “These guys are good” ought to extend to the caddies. You made us chuckle at the Valero Texas Open in May not just by becoming the first to play and caddie in the same PGA Tour event, but by beating your boss by three shots. Toting a bag, you helped Jesper Parnevik shoot 70-74. After borrowing a “mystery collection” of clubs, Tag Ridings’ putter, golf shoes from David Duval and a golf glove from Lee Janzen, you shot 71-70 on your own ball. Thanks for showing off in a way that had to make your caddie colleagues proud, if not Parnevik a little embarrassed.
Dear Laura Davies:
Thanks for being one of the best interviews in golf and someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously. With cameras running, you surprised a lot of folks at the Solheim Cup in August when you revealed you weren’t interested in being the European captain someday. “It looks like hard work, and I’ve always shied away from hard work,” you said. We all laughed in the interview room, but we also hoped you would change your mind.
Dear Anthony Kim:
We know current events are not your strong suit. If we didn’t know, we did after you were asked earlier this year how you thought the lousy state of the economy would affect the PGA Tour. “At one of the tournaments this year, we didn’t have courtesy cars,” you said. “From what I hear from people a lot smarter than me, the car industry is really having a tough time right now.” Don’t worry, Anthony, keep setting records in majors for birdies – 11 in the second round of this year’s Masters – and you’ll get the last laugh.
Dear Kenny G:
Thanks for hitting the right notes when you played the Honda Classic in March. We’re not talking about your work on the saxophone for children in the Nicklaus’ charity, though that was a terrific deal for the event. We’re talking about how you aptly summed up the game’s challenge by comparing it to music, or any other profession. “Here’s the thing about golf,” you told us. “You can practice and not get better. If you practice a musical instrument, you’re going to get better.”
Dear Michael J. Fox:
Though battling Parkinson’s disease, you saw the truths that make golf appealing to Kenny G and the rest of us. Asked about your affinity for the game at the Principal Charity Classic in West Des Moines, Iowa, you said: “Golf gives you a new opportunity to fail every couple minutes, but it gives you an opportunity to succeed every couple minutes, too.” You also joked about your reaction to teachers who stress the importance of staying still over the ball. If you can laugh, so can we. Thanks for permission to laugh at ourselves, even when it hurts.
Dear Gary Player:
Your tireless devotion to fitness and your competitive spirit continued to inspire us this year. At the Masters, your last year as a competitor there, you were asked if you would like to join Arnold Palmer as an honorary starter someday. “Would I?” you bellowed. “Of course, I would. I’ll even exercise harder to make sure I outdrive Arnold.” With Jack Nicklaus joining Palmer now, we’ll be eager to see if you’ll be getting your wish soon. Thanks for motivating us all with the idea that we’re never too old to take on a challenge.
Dear Charles Barkley:
Thanks for sharing your struggles and pain with us on The Haney Project. We don’t feel so bad about our games now. We admire how much you love the game, in spite of what it’s doing to you. “Little old ladies walking the street want to give me advice,” you said. “Everybody gives me advice. It’s hilarious.” The fact that you can laugh at your swing makes us feel a lot better about our swings.
Dear Padraig Harrington:
After missing five straight cuts, you channeled Charles Barkley for us. “My driver is an office club at the moment,” you said. “It works 9 to 5 and never on weekends.” We probably drive you batty analyzing your swing to death. But while we know how dedicated to improvement you are, we thank you for not taking the game or yourself too seriously.
Dear Phil Mickelson:
Following you on the back nine of the pro-am at the Deutsche Bank Championship, we got a first-hand glimpse why galleries so adore you. Sensing some fatigue, you turned to the gallery and declared that an energy boost was required. Like the Pied Piper, you waved for all of us to follow you to the concession stand, where you bought hot dogs and hamburgers for your pro-am partners and anyone in the gallery who wanted to eat. Thanks for making the Mickelson experience so satisfying.